Erté: “Art-to-wear” jewellery
Fashion and theatrical costume designer, graphic artist and sculptor, he remains i art history’s brightest representative of the Art Deco style. Roman Petrovich Tyrtov, who called himself Erté after the French pronunciation of his initials, was one of the most striking characters of the artistic scene of the twentieth century. For 97 years of his intense life, he never ceased to surprise.
In 1974 Jack Solomon, with his wife Caroline, visited the Erté exhibition. He was aware of the artist’s contribution to Art Deco in the 1920s, but he’d never had a chance to see his work in person. Amazed by this designer’s originality and style, Solomon went to Paris to meet him personally. This is how the cooperation between Erté and the Circle of Fine Arts was born.
During the following years a large portion of the artist’s works was published in the catalog “Erté at Ninety: The Complete Graphics” (E.P.: Dutton, New York, 1982). Jack Solomon often recalled Erté’s desire to create jewellery. The designer had his own idea of a perfect adornment. He considered contemporary jewels mediocre and tawdry: the artist dreamed of creating a piece of art, however, that could and should be worn every day.
Art to wear
He fantasized about his collection rich in details and lines which he would call Art to wear. He realized that the fulfillment of his idea required great craftsmanship. Jack Solomon was looking for jewelers in Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, London, Tel Aviv. After analyzing the sketches and drawings, the owners of well-known workshops insisted that it was impossible to realize the jewelry with an amount of 50 to 200 copies.
Fortunately Jack met Natalie Kane O’Keiff, who had her own workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She had great experience in jewelry making and perfect acquaintance with various jewelers in southeasternAmerica. She believed that the implementation of Erté’s projects was possible only if the Fine Arts Circle would be willing to prepare its own workshop.
During the year three prototypes were realized. Erté approved. This was the beginning of a cooperation that lasted about 10 years.
Technical drawings in accordance with Ertés sketches were prepared, corrected and supplemented by the artist . After the designer’s approval, an enlarged copy of a piece was made. Then the modelling started.
Nature and geometry
Erté loved stones of unusual shape, cut or color. The materials always had to be exactly what he was looking for: emeralds and blue topaz from Brazil, rubies from Thailand, coral from Japan. The team elaborated each piece according to the designer’s instructions. When the prototypes were made, Natalie Kane went to Paris or to Barbados where the designer was to show him the project personally and get his approval for further action.
The first jewellery pieces had great success. Solomon and Erté decided to continue. All the jewellery was released in a limited edition, numbered and signed by the Circle of Fine Arts and ERTÈ. The marking could be located on either side of the jewelry. In total, 328 designs, in different versions, were produced.
The necklace can be worn without the central element, which becomes a brooch. The piece seems like sharp broken ice. This motif occurs in the costume “Arctic Sea”, which Erte drew in 1925 for the Broadway revue “Scandals” by George White.
The theme of the sea often occurs in Erté’s jewellery. And this is no coincidence. The sea was the designer’s favorite place, since his childhood, most of which he spent in Kronstadt. Erté’s father was fleet admiral and was the head of the Marine Engineering School. His parents hoped that their only son would continue the family tradition and, like five generations of his ancestors, take on the career of naval officer.
Throughout his life Erté never lost love for open spaces and often visited Monte Carlo, Mallorca or Barbados: walking along the beach was his treasured pastime.
The harmony of form and color found in nature interested Erté his entire life. The ring “Alouette” is a lark at dawn, where a star-studded scattering of diamonds and mother-of-pearl moon give place to the golden sun and the blue sky.
The artist loved the image of a mystical night moon.
The influence of the marine theme is perceivable in the Luna series: the shape and motifs on the rings resemble a shell. The moon is expressed in the absolute strangeness of the drawing, in its “extraterrestrial” nature.
The designer drew ideas and inspiration from everything that surrounded him. One of the most common themes in his jewellery was animals and, especially, birds.
The Peacock ring resembles a peacock’s tail feather. It seems that nature created it to satisfy Erte’s love for everything subtle, spectacular and bright.
Graceful bird feathers perfectly conveyed the designer’s favorite lines.
This design takes us to the world of oriental fairy birds. Erté was attracted by Oriental cultures, his art blended the colorfulness of Egyptian ornaments and Persian motifs. During his childhood the artist could wander for hours in the halls of the Hermitage. His favorite pastime was to look at Persian miniatures. The books with reproductions of Chinese and Indian miniatures in his father’s library amazed the designer with their bright colors and subtle details.
Theatre and costume
In Paris the artist worked with Paul Poiret. His style, inspired by the oriental exoticness of Bakst’s Scheherazade, with its flickering colors, stones, feathers and furs, appealed to Erté, which could not but be reflected in his jewellery.
The designer loved Egyptian culture, which perfectly resonated with the Art Deco geometry. The necklace “The Nile” is, on one hand, the wings of a bird and ,on the other hand, it resembles an inverted fan, a frequently encountered image in the artist’s adornments.
This fancy brooch depicts two lovers, hiding their feelings. The theme of love is perceivable through the entirety of the designer’s work.
Erté created his jewelry for women, whom he always admired, he dedicated his work to them. Our attention is attracted by beautiful, seductive females on the posters. It was the world of a female goddess or Assyrian princess, a music hall star or a favorite of a harem, a fairy bird or a magical flower. She is elegantly and fashionably dressed and exposes herself for the show at the theater, as actors do on stage.
This necklace was created for the French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire who was one of the designer’ favorite artists. Semicircles resemble the shape of a tutu skirt and the gold contour represents the hands of dancers raised up after the performance.
Ertè remembered the Russian fairy tale from his childhood about the beautiful girl and the beast . The designer gave us his own interpretation: the beast is hidden under the female beauty.
Erté liked to portray femmes fatales. Sirens were part of this theme. The artist painted them with hair as long as waves of the sea. This incredible piece of jewelry resembles a sculpture and it took many hours of engravery work.
The designer had always been attracted by ancient Greek culture and the graphic laconism of Greek vases. The design of his jewellery is full of allegorical fantasies and mythological motifs.
Simple shapes, right angles and lines, circles were often found in the sketches of the artist. Ethnic geometries and ornaments were a characteristic feature of Erte’s jewelry.
One of Erté’s most famous works was the “Alphabet”.
Admiring the strength and the beauty of a human body, the artist created his own series of letters, which became one of the most popular pieces of graphic art he ever realized. The Jewelery was released in two series: simple figures and letters that lay on black onyx.
It is impossible to describe Erté’s contribution to the development of the Art Deco style and jewelry art design in particular. Endless imagination, filigree drawing, skills in compositions and an amazing sense of color continue to attract many contemporary designers and artists.
- Erte: Art to Wear: The Complete Jewelery. Dutton Studio Books.